Marketing with Impact: Four Goldmine Strategies

Marketing with Impact: Four Goldmine Strategies

This is a Guest blog post by Deborah Fell, one of the top marketing experts I know.

Of all the ways to make money, panning for gold is probably among the most difficult. But what if I were to give you all the panning equipment and a map indicating exactly where the gilded stash is buried? A little easier now, right?

Today, I’m here to deliver the precious metals – a goldmine of marketing strategies that, if followed, may not result in gilded nuggets, but instead more customers, more revenue, and a golden future.

First, let’s recognize the obvious – your B2B customer is also looking to uncover some gold. But in their search for a product or service that’s going to fill a very specific need, they won’t be spending a lot of time on the phone or pounding the pavement.

b2b-buyers

According to a recent Forrester study, 92 percent of B2B buyers start with online research in the buying process and spend the largest single chunk of their time (27 percent according to a recent Gartner study) in this activity. As a result, these buyers are nearly 60 percent through their decision before they ever speak with a company’s sales representative. According to FocusVision, B2B buyers consume 13 pieces of content on average primarily from the vendor’s website, internet searches and social media. These buyers likely know as much or more about your company and the competition as you do!

The attached graphic illustrates just how circuitous the route is for today’s customer, from idea to purchase, and the paths they are likely to travel:

https://aliceheiman.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Gartner.png

With virtually all buyers starting their research online, you would be wise to start there, too; however, how you start, and what you do, matters. Otherwise, those valuable buyer eyeballs will shift to another firm that is more adept at creating a connection.

At the outset, I promised you a goldmine – though your results may vary, here are four keys I’ve employed successfully with my B2B clients to help them define their online marketing strategies, and to make them count:

  1. Discover your target customer and his/her buying process:

Have you spent time getting to know your customer segment – I mean, really understanding what makes them tick? What’s the core problem driving the search for solution, and how do they look for solutions and develop requirements? If your discovery only asks about their need for your product, that won’t work because the gold is much further below the surface. With a firm understanding of not only needs and challenges, but the related pain, fear and uncertainty, you can develop an effective strategic and targeted approach to support their research and buying process, and demonstrate that you are the one that “gets” them. Without this, marketing is a shot in the dark at best, and your message will be undifferentiated.

If you also have insight into your target customer’s buying process, broader context of their problem and depth of concern, you can create effective, relevant messaging in the right channels and move the needle in your direction.

Remember this parable: Homeowners are not searching for a hammer when they go to the hardware store — they are looking for something to help secure the nail that hangs the picture and takes the room from an uncomfortable place to a thing of beauty. If you’re selling hammers, it’s your job to understand the problem from the customer’s perspective, and then demonstrate to them throughout their buying journey that you have the superior solution to solve it. Same is true with B2B customers.

  1. Create and execute a clear value proposition.

It’s tempting for people to overlook or overthink this step, thinking there’s no need to re-look or getting lost in the word-smithing. At this stage, we should be focusing on the essentials of the value proposition and putting it into words – answering these questions:

  • What problems do you solve?
  • Who do you solve them for?
  • How do you uniquely solve them?
  • What are the functional and emotional benefits?
  • Why should prospects choose you over any other solution?

Easy, right? But knowing this, and articulating it, are two distinct tasks. Assuming you have the right offering at the right price and are accessible in the right channels, converting this value proposition into brand positioning and messaging will be key to differentiation in your market.

Every aspect of the business, including channel decisions (where to distribute/sell), product/service lines (what to sell) and pricing (what do distributors or consumers pay) are part of the equation. For example, where a company distributes says a lot about the brand. If you distribute in discount channels, you may get some traction fast to start up or to make up for a tough quarter; however, you will become the discount brand. So, communicating what kind of company you are on each of these dimensions is an essential ingredient.

Again, be thorough in your message development and thoughtful in how and where you place it. Often, marketing agencies or consultants will facilitate a workshop to conduct a word exercise and call it a value proposition. That’s not enough. Your value is what your customers perceive it to be, so think through your offering, and what messaging needs to be where.

“Your value is what your customers perceive it to be”

  1. Create a go-to-market plan.

This is where you will create the roadmap to nurture the right type of customer for your revenue-sourcing aspirations. To do this right, and I will insist again, ad hoc marketing has simply got to go. Random tactics will not convey the right message. Messaging in the wrong channel will miss the mark. And the right channel with the wrong message means you are wasting time and money and demonstrating to prospects that you are not the right choice.

This is where digital will take an outsized role: It is critical to have not just an online presence, but an effective online presence. Check this out: As of 2020, there were 1.3 billion websites in the world (with 200 million active websites in the U.S. alone) and 6 billion indexed web pages. That’s information overload, and it comes when B2B buyers’ time is more scarce and more precious. Effective implementation will ensure you’re not wasting it.

“Information is a commodity; time is the scarcity”

  1. Measure and track.

Opinion-based marketing results are out, and disciplined approaches to data and analysis are in. To that end, it’s critical to set specific goals and ROI targets. The days of asking your family and friends what they think of your website are long over! The best solution is to have insights based on real data, and goals that this data can support. Setting targets in this manner creates energy that will motivate the team to focus on accomplishments and success. Ideally, you and your team will have a daily sense of how marketing is tracking, and the insights needed to make timely adjustments to the plan. It’s important to stop what’s not working, keep doing what works or shows promise, and start new initiatives that will amplify the desired impact.

The good news is that this type of analysis need not be expensive. With a minimal investment, any company can measure and optimize its online results daily. Even if you outsource this to an agency, you still need to designate an internal resource to monitor, share, and understand the data. Marketing should report progress in your weekly or bi-weekly leadership team meetings, and the team should be collaborating with sales along the way. Showing a lot of leads but no progress in closing sales is not success. Marketing needs to stay close to the sales team (and vice versa) and elicit insight from them about the quality of leads and the state of the marketplace.

Clearly, there’s gold in “them there” hills. You just need to know your target customer segment and what moves them; how your product and service solves their pain better than anyone else; communicate this market superiority; and track and measure the results.

You have the plan and the map – go get the gold!

Or better yet, watch the webinar recording here: “THE Playbook for Explosive Growth: 4 Goldmine Strategies to Increase Marketing Leverage & Capitalize on Market Recovery”

Deborah Fell

Deborah Fell

Deborah Fell is Area Manager Partner & CMO for Chief Outsiders. She is an expert at helping mid-market to large enterprise companies identify and capitalize on marketing strategies to increase revenue and profitability. Chief Outsiders provides fractional CMOs without the expense of a full-time resource to CEOs who want to accelerate revenue and profits through improved marketing strategies, implementation and leverage.

How’s Your Sales Process Confidence Measuring Up to the Results It’s Generating?

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This is a Guest blog post from Sales and Sales Management expert Chris Tully.

We’re just about halfway through the year and are coming out of an eventful prior 18 months. Finally, we’re seeing enough consistency in the market to take swift and effective action to move forward with a good amount of confidence… something many of us have been lacking for a while. When thinking about how to finish strong in 2021 and the best way to prepare for break-out growth in 2022, ask yourself: “what do I have to do to make sure that where I’m going now brings short-term results and positions us to make a huge difference long-term?”    In my role, I find that sifting through all the parts and pieces of the Sales Organization can be overwhelming for Owners and Sales Leaders, leaving some not knowing how to make heads or tails out of it all. While several areas of your Sales Function may need to be retooled or realigned to match the evolving economy, I’ve found that it’s crucial to begin evaluating the potential for adjustment at the heart: The Sales Process, or as I like to say, “the nucleus that feeds the whole.”

Given the considerable changes these past many months, whatever current Sales Process you had established previously is likely not reflective of new demand. This is due to drastic shifts in the evolving economy, such as how buyers buy and assemble themselves, communication method adjustments, changes in customers’ organization structures, impact to market trends, etc. Beyond these external changes, quite possibly your business has also gone through internal strategic changes relating to your target buyer and customer base. Have you taken time to think about the impact of all these shifts?   

Time and time again, I’ve witnessed it necessary to have a successful or proven process to drive sales success, similarly to process-driven models in other departments. I like to say that hypothetically, this means if you drop a new member into your Sales Team and have them follow the roadmap you laid out, they are able to deliver the same consistent results as other team members. You can dial in this type of repeatable measure of success when you take the time to “look under the covers,” so to say, by evaluating and fine tuning your Sales Process.

However, before you take action on retooling your Sales Process, first let’s work through a couple of self-administered strength tests to determine if you’re working upon a solid foundation. I’ve noted two vital components to consider when determining the effectiveness or completeness of your current Sales Process.

STRENGTH TEST 1 Does your current Sales Process account for the best practice elements outlined in my building block model, and have your salespeople been properly trained on how to navigate the roadmap you’ve given them?

SX-Campaign-19_Building-Blocks-Graphic_v2

Maybe you think that your process is successful and doesn’t need to be rebuilt. That’s great! But, I encourage you to verify this assumption given that the majority of 2,000+ Owners and Sales Leaders revealed that their Sales Process didn’t include the clarity necessary to drive desired results.   

THOUGHT PROVOKING TRIVIA   What percentage of small to mid-sized businesses don’t know what needs to occur at each stage of the sales cycle?   a. 54%   b. 61%   c. 73%   d. 86%   Find out the answer at the end of my blog.

I welcome you to leverage me as a sounding board to learn if there is merit in you investing resources to test the strength of your critically important Sales Process.

STRENGTH TEST 2 Do you see strong evidence that your Sales Process is producing desired results? A comprehensive response may take some investigation on your part. Below, I recommend specific research areas to conduct your due diligence in answering the previous question:

  • Is the Sales Process documented with clarity?
  • Is the Owner or Sales Leader engaged with the salespeople often enough to observe the Sales Process in real-world selling situations?
  • Is the Sales Pipeline showing good movement?
  • Are the salespeople performing consistently?
  • Does the Sales Team regularly achieve forecast accuracy?
  • Are closed deals meeting profitability targets?

I’ll discuss tuning your pipeline and leveraging technology to provide better conversion rate visibility in a future blog.   It’s essential to understand that by comparing your Sales Process confidence to the results it’s generating and taking subsequent action now, you’ll be positioning yourself to finish strong in 2021. Even more impactful, you’ll also be setting yourself up for a record-breaking 2022 and beyond!

THOUGHT PROVOKING TRIVIA ANSWER 86% of small to mid-sized business owners reported that they don’t know exactly what needs to occur during sale cycle stages. * So, how confident are you that your Sales Process is actually delivering the desired results? I can help. Schedule a time to chat.   *Data compiled from 2,355 Owners and Sales Leaders that took Sales Xceleration Sales Agility Assessment® through December 2021.

About the Author  I am a part of a sub-group of Sales Xceleration Advisors dedicated to pooling our knowledge and expertise to generate insights, tips, and tools to help business leaders exponentially grow their revenue. We are seasoned  Executive Sales Leaders that have guided B2B businesses ranging from start-up to Fortune 500. I welcome any special requests you may have for future writing topics.

Chris Tully

Chris is the President of Sales Growth Advisors LLC, a sales consulting firm focused on increasing revenue growth and improving profitability.   He can be reached at chris@salesgrowthadvisor.com.

Chris Tully_Sales Growth Advisors

So You’re Healthy… Is Your Organization?

This is a Guest Blog post from my good friend, Beth Berman, master executive coach and Certified EOS Implementer.

Most of us are beginning to go back to “normal” when it comes to our health. We are confident in our immune systems and life has, “started to resume”. Many of us will now schedule long-overdue annual physicals to ensure all of our bodily systems are functioning, just like we would in any year. 

This is all great news. 

But have you given your organization a real checkup lately?

  • Are you sure your people are going to execute above and beyond your expectations this quarter? 
  • Does your leadership team have it all together?
  • Are people in your organization actually seeing your vision clearly? 

If you aren’t 100% positive about the above questions, it’s time for a free 4 minute Organizational Checkup

Crop medic calibrating phoropter working with patient

ORGANIZATIONAL CHECKUP BENEFITS

Strong businesses require monitor their organizations often – at least annually.

 The benefits of a check-up include:

  • A clear picture of what’s working and what’s not, with an opportunity to fix issues before they become debilitating.
  • Getting the Leadership Team on same page regarding organizational priorities.
  • Clear, measurable markers that your organization is improving, every year.
  • Confirming alignment on a single long-term path and driving execution (Traction) of clear steps to get there. 

EOS® clients answer a simple questionnaire prior to beginning the EOS Process™ and then every year thereafter. This annual discipline helps drive the conversations that lead to strong and cohesive organizations.

Want a clear vision, real traction in executing on that vision, and a healthy, aligned team that makes it happen? Contact Beth:  beth@compellications.com

REAL-WORLD COMPANY ALIGNMENT

I recently completed a 2-Day Annual Planning Session with one of my client leadership teams who already are thinking about their strategic plan through September 2022. They completed the Organizational Checkup during our session, as we always do during our yearly off-sites. We celebrated the strong areas. Most importantly, we focused in on the areas where answers skewed from team member to team member (and, of course, where answers were ranked low across the board).

This exercise enabled us to pinpoint the parts of their business that needed the most attention.

Their overall score averaged 72/100.  Companies hit inflection points when they get to 80+/100 in the Vision, People, Data, Issues, Process, and Traction components, so an 8-point delta really isn’t half bad. The good news is even better when you consider that their original grade was 36/100 (and this is while they were profitable, growing, and doing well. Just not GREAT… yet).

The team was proud to double their score—since starting to work with me 9 months ago—but they know they have more room to grow. They have specific tools and disciplines that will make their recent growth even more sustainable.

With the Organizational Checkup exercise, they pinpointed those exact tools (Quarterly Direct-Report Conversations; predictive, activity-focused scorecard measurables, and a clearer marketing strategy). They now have a strong plan heading into the quarter to address all three immediately. 

Spend 4 minutes and take the Organizational Checkup to the same clarity today. 

Words Have Power: Concise Pitch Decks Pack More Punch

This is a Guest Post from CONNECTpreneur Coach and partner, Ines LeBow of Enterprise Transformation Solutons.

Every. Word. Counts.

So does every second during your funding pitch to potential investors. On average, you’ve got less than three minutes to make your case before your audience gives a mental thumbs-up or thumbs-down on your business idea.

Do the Math

If you’re looking to raise $1 million in seed funding, a pitch deck with 10 slides averaging 55 words per slide puts the value of each word at $1,818. For $10 million in Series A funding, each word is worth more than $18,000. For $55 million in funding, each word is worth $100,000.

Packing more words and details into your pitch isn’t going to make it more appealing or more valuable to your audience. The opposite occurs: it actually devalues the most important information. In essence, you end up burying the treasure.

Word Power

Some of the most successful people have harnessed the power of words to vault themselves to prominence in their respective fields:

  • Rick Rubin, 8x Grammy Award Winner: “There’s a tremendous power in using the least amount of information to get a point across.”
  • Dianna Booher, Prolific Author and Communications Expert: “People aren’t likely to be influenced by a message they can’t remember. Be clear, concise, and clever.”
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Renowned Architect: “Lack of clarity is the No. 1 time-waster.”
  • Rudyard Kipling, Nobel Prize-Winning Author: “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Be Epically Focused

Investors want your presentation to be brief and on point, but they also want to hear an epic story. Remember, these are people who listen to dozens of pitches each week that are too long, too boring, and too scattershot in their approach. They want you to draw them in and dazzle them with a narrative that is clear, concise, and compelling. So inspire them, inform and educate them, and, most importantly, connect with them.

To start shaping your epic story, consider what prompted the idea for your product or service and what inspired you to start your company. Weave these concepts into a vivid movie trailer-like story that elicits excitement, emotion, and eagerness for what comes next, with the investor playing a starring role in the production.

Funding Pitch Opportunity

If you are an entrepreneur looking for funding and would like to present to potential investors through CONNECTpreneur, please reach out to me.

For more on funding success, here are links to some recent posts I’ve written on the topic:

·        Be Unique, Get Funded

·        Get Funded in 2021: Super Angels

·        7 Factors for Startup Success

·        5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Make Your Sales Team Thrive: The Importance of Adapting to Virtual Selling

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This is a Guest blog post from sales and sales management expert Chris Tully.

Did you know virtual selling has been in the making for 94-years with the first video call dating back to 1927? Talk about it taking a while for technology to catch on! Learn more about the interesting start to video calls below.

The video call has come a long way to become a regular part of consumer mainstream technology over the last few years. But, over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the corporate world much faster into using video conference calls as a virtual selling platform and for day-to-day customer interaction. This idea brings to mind the old phrase, “It’s nice to put a face with the name.” There is a lot of psychology that goes into how a relationship develops because of the connection in seeing and “knowing” someone’s face and being able to read and react to their body language. There is a certain rapport and trust that is built. Today, the video call is a differentiator attributed to sales success. 

Now that sellers and buyers have embraced the benefits of virtual interaction, there is no going back. Sure, buyers and sellers will begin to meet again in the office, but a full return to in-person selling seems highly unlikely. Owners and Sales Leaders committed to their growth plans need to teach and equip their sales teams to perform at a high level in the virtual-driven business world.

Why is it that buyers continually express that sellers are falling short in how they engage in the virtual selling landscape? It’s due to buyers and sellers experiencing different benefits and challenges from this type of engagement. The internet is alive with online content on this topic, but the primary obstacle sellers face is failing to understand how virtual selling translates in to the three most important areas of sales:

  1. CONNECT – Gaining the buyer’s attention
  2. EARN – Developing trust
  3. SHARE – Presenting solutions

Sellers must understand how different their impact is to their buyer and transform their customer engagement and sales processes from direct human selling. Learning the gaps of virtual selling will create the path to bridging them. Sellers that effectively make the pivot will enjoy many more sales opportunities and create a larger pipeline with a faster sales cycle.

SX-13_Gains-and-Pains-Graphic

Successful virtual selling begins with learning to make connections without direct contact. This idea is directly related to Emotional Contagion, which is the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people. Back in the 90’s a group of scientists measured emotional contagion in the most effective salespeople nationwide. *This is because 50% of the information in a conversation is non-verbal. This means that we lose a large amount of data intake when we shift from in-person meetings (in 3-D) to video conferencing (in 2-D) due to a dramatically smaller view of the customer and their surroundings. This challenge grows tenfold when the salesperson utilizes solely phone communication (1-D). Although it plays a part, sales success is not because of great products or services. It is the result of an expert understanding of emotions and the ability to navigate them. When a salesperson is face-to-face with a buyer, it is easier for them to understand objection cues, minimize communication issues, ask for the next step, and gain commitment to close the sale.

Emotional-Contagion

Here are ten practical tips to help Owners and Sales Leaders guide their salespeople to more success in the 2-D virtual selling world: Five counter-productive virtual selling behaviors to avoid:

  • Jumping on a call on time but failing to check your audio and video in advance.
  • Wearing clothes that you would not normally wear during a face-to-face meeting.
  • Having poor internet connection that regularly freezes.
  • Failing to prepare in advance to learn the buyer’s interests and needs.
  • Talking too much and not allowing the customer to consistently engage.

Five things that positively influence video calls:

  • Allow ample time between virtual meetings to give yourself the time to mentally prepare.
  • Prep for the meeting by finding ways to connect with buyers to gain and maintain their attention.
  • Learn to manage the sales process with fewer cues (less Emotional Contagion).
  • Continually gain verbal validation from the buyer before moving onto the next topic.
  • Prevent the buyer from taking control and cutting the sales process short.

While the virtual selling world is new, it’s going to stay around quite a while longer and maybe become a permanent part of the sales process. Properly guiding your salespeople through this transformation will ensure that virtual selling is an effective way to grow your sales and business for years to come.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Back to Basics: Tips to Help Struggling Sales Reps

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This is a Guest blog post from Sales and Sales Management expert Chris Tully.

It’s common for sales professionals – both new and seasoned veterans – to run into bumps in the road from time to time that results in a struggle to achieve sales goals. Changing market conditions, taking on a new territory, loss of “that big deal” they invested lots of time into, and a variety of other causes can all be contributing factors to missed sales goals. Whatever the reason, Owners and Sales Leaders need to find ways to positively support their struggling sales reps to help them get them back on the right track.

A starting point to isolating skill gaps is to go back to basics by utilizing a proven sales call planning methodology. The Sales Leader will benefit by leveraging the model as a diagnostic tool. The salesperson will find it to be a helpful guide that enables them to produce stronger, more consistent customer engagement results.

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Every sales interaction should be intentional.  Sales reps must always keep in mind that the customer being called on typically has limited time and budget, and a plethora of other options to choose from. Effective call planning relates to all sales interactions, at all stages of the customer lifecycle. Investing time in call planning is a best practice for any salesperson who is looking for better control of their sales process and customer relationships, not just a struggling sales rep. When a call is made with clear direction and purpose, it provides the salesperson with more confidence and the customer with a better experience, which will lead to greater success.

Below, I have an outline of my Sales Call Planning Methodology that has proven successful:

  • Pre-Call Planning
    • Call Objectives
    • Discovery Questions
    • Value Proposition / Points of Differentiation
    • Desired Next Steps
  • In-Call Action
    • Key Information Gathered During Call
    • Resulting Action Items – Sales Rep and Customer assignments
    • Next Step Agreement
  • Post-Call Review
    • Was the Call Objective achieved?
    • What could have been done differently?
    • Key Take-aways

As you can see, an effective approach to sales call planning involves action items for the salesperson before, during, and after the call. With planning, sales reps will gain a clear view of what they want to get out of the interaction, and the ability to envision what the end result will be. Remember: Every sales interaction should be intentional. When a call is made with purpose, it’s going to have a greater impact. 

In addition to equipping your salespeople with a sales call planning method, sales coaching involvement is critical, especially for a struggling sales rep. The most effective involvement is when the Owner or Sales Leader participates in sales calls (in-person, or video calls). Be sure to spend time before entering the call by asking the salesperson about their pre-call plan. Just as important, spend time immediately after by talking through post-call review elements. This is when the most powerful learning can occur. Another effective coaching method is to utilize the sales call planning model as a diagnostic tool during the Sales Leader’s routine one-on-one meetings with each salesperson. After the sales team has had proper training on sales call planning, this can be a productive method to keep a pulse on how well the salesperson is able to independently approach their sales calls to achieve desired outcomes. 

Both coaching methods will enable Owners and Sales Leaders to quickly identify areas a salesperson may need help to improve their sales competency. Listen closely for these coaching opportunities as your sales rep shares how they navigated the sales call:

  • Based on who their calls are with, are they clear on target market and who they should be meeting with (i.e. the appropriate buyer persona)?
  • Have they set their call objectives and desired next steps to align with your proven sales process?
  • How well are they differentiating their product/service? Do they have a clear understanding of the company’s full value proposition and the ability to effectively articulate it?
  • Do they have a succinct and agreed upon next step established?

Implementing a “back to basics” methodology, like sales call planning is a step in the right direction to help your struggling sales rep but it is commonly not the full solution. For long term success, it’s critical to evaluate the current sales infrastructure in which your salesperson operates. Without a best practices platform that effectively integrates people, process and systems, Owners and Sales Leaders will continually find themselves chasing symptoms instead of fixing root cause problems.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Be Unique, Get Funded

Be Unique, Get Funded

This is Guest Blog post from CONNECTpreneur Coach and partner Ines LeBow.

Attracting investors to get your business funded is all about being unique, even if the product you’re presenting isn’t a new invention or innovation. Earlier this year, I highlighted 7 Factors for Startup Success based on the philosophies of Shark Tank star Mark Cuban.

He believes that you need to find a way to make at least one aspect of your product or service uniquely your own. You can do so by thinking about the special characteristics your product will have, to whom you will market it, and how you differentiate it from the entrenched competitors. Trying to be the same results in competition based on price, which is not how you want to compete.

In Mr. Cuban’s own words about being unique:

Creating opportunities means looking where others are not

and

When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?

Not Just Socks

Socks have been around for a long time. Even the athletic sock category has been pretty saturated, but that didn’t stop Bombas from their start-up business focused on making a better athletic sock. I covered the case of Bombas in an earlier article entitled 5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money.

They invested a lot of time and effort into identifying what made athletes, fitness junkies, hikers, runners, speed walkers, and other heavy users of athletic hosiery disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed about their existing sock of choice. They designed and produced their socks to address those issues, conducting significant product testing to ensure the user feedback hit the bullseye.

Successful Close

If you are an early Shark Tank devotee, you’ll know that the founders of Bombas went on the show and left with $200,000 in funding. That’s right…$200,000 of someone else’s money to launch an athletic sock. So it wasn’t about an exciting new technology product but about a unique take on a product for which there was already a defined, established market with committed customers who are continually looking to improve the equipment and accessories they use to perform their activity.

So what is unique about your product? Perhaps you can approach real-life users who are enthusiasts and get their perspective on the unique benefits your product offers. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact to your target audience, which translates to how you differentiate yourself to potential investors.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Protect Yourself. Live Outside The Bubble

This is a Guest Blog post by Marty LeClerc, an experienced investor, portfolio manager, and investment adviser.

There is a mania hovering over the investment landscape. Bonds. Digital currencies. A large part of the stock market. Certain real estate sectors. All driven to bullish extremes. Priced for perfection. Priced for disappointment.

Someone tweeted. The only thing to fear in the financial markets is the lack of fear itself.

Bullishness seems the only option. Investors, prudent and otherwise, regret past cautiousness. A woulda, coulda, shoulda feeling…

In hindsight the past is obvious.

Regret can lead to fear-of-missing-out. Said fear leads to costly investment errors. Think Warren Buffett. What the wise do in the beginning, fools do in the end.

Big challenge for investors right now? Protect yourself. Avoid regret-induced foolishness. Avoid lasting errors.

Repeat a mantra. It is not how much money you make during a bull market, but how much money you keep once the tide turns. Make this your mantra.

Remember. No one regretted prudence going into last March. No fear-of-missing-out when liquidity dried-up and prices crashed. There was only fear itself.

That was last Spring. A time to be greedy. Today, warning signs abound. It is a time to be cautious.

Nearly everything indicates stock indices are overvalued. More so than even in 1999, the previous gold-standard for overvaluation. Only in relation to bonds is this not true. Interest rates were a lot higher then.

Speculation is rife. Take SPACs. Special purpose acquisition companies. These are blind pools of cash. Designed to take a company from private hands to a stock market listing. Call it an alternative to the traditional IPO, but with less investor protection.

SPACs ebb and flow with stock market sentiment. At tops they are enormously popular. During bear markets, no one wants them. Now they are the rage. Issuance uncontained. Setting all records. Everyone is involved. A-Rod. Colin Kaepernick. Billy Beane. Shaquille O’Neal. Some 300 companies. Raising over $100 billion. In real terms, on a par with both 1929 and 2007.

Maybe worse. One example. Churchill Capital Corp IV (NYSE: CCIV).  It has cash worth a bit less than $10 a share. Only other asset some sexy plans from management. Nothing else. Currently costs $30 to own that $10. You would think paying $3 for $1 is self-evidently wacky. Not in this stock market.

Old thinking. Interest rates can only go to zero. Speculative bubbles do not happen during severe recessions. Prosperity equals a rising stock market.

New thinking. Everything is upside down.

Sobering thought-experiment by Horizon Kinetics. Assume the roaring ‘20s awaits us. Assume good times continue to roll through the ‘30s. Assume the economy expands 4% a year for 20 years.

Simple math. People will be twice as rich in 2040 as today.

Use the so-called Buffett Indicator. Assume the ratio contracts from today’s lofty levels. Down to a bit below its historic mean. By 2040.

Simple math. The S&P 500 Index experiences zero appreciation for 2-decades. Lesson. Prosperity might not translate into profits for passive investors after all.

Research Affiliates and GMO provide a public service. Excellent research for free. They follow the data. Do not trying to sell you anything. Both have arrived at the same conclusion for the S&P 500. Negative returns over the next 7 year period.

Bitcoin is not an investment. Does not generate income. Claims to be a store-of-value. Like the dollar. Except it relies on tokens. Professor Roubini says, “the Flintstones had a more sophisticated monetary system based on a benchmark: the cartoon cavemen used shells.”

No intrinsic value in a bitcoin. Only a promise of limited supply. One price-anchor. The cost of mining a coin. Runs into the several thousands of dollars. Depending on electricity rates.

Bitcoin is a haven for criminals. Tough luck if fraudsters steal it. Tough luck if you lose your key. Ledger erased. Bitcoin gone forever.

Bitcoin is bad for the environment. A rapacious energy user. BBC says mining it uses roughly the same amount of energy as Argentina, Norway or Switzerland.

Promoters say digital currencies are a medium-of-exchange.

Everyone wishes they bought bitcoin when. Up 9-fold in less than a year. Up 100-fold in just over 3 ½ years. Up 1,000-fold in 8 years.

Bitcoin is off-the-charts volatile. More than doubled since December 2017. To get that return, you needed patience. Bitcoin crashed 80%. Rallied. Crashed 50%. Rallied. Crashed 25%. Last month. Rallied. Now up 50% in 2-weeks.

The bible says there is nothing new under the sun. In 1630s Holland people were concerned with currency debasement. They sought alternative stores-of-value. They discovered tulip bulbs. The rest is history.

Tulip bulbs differ from bitcoin. A tulip bulb is edible. It has intrinsic value.

The fuel for speculation is liquidity. Money supply expanded by 25% last year. A Fed-induced liquidity-run.

Some fear an out-of-control printing press. Claim it will generate consumer price inflation. Only discernable inflation is asset price inflation. So far.

Liquidity-runs defy logic. Until they do not. Past runs ended badly. Think 1974, 1987 and 1999.

Repeat the mantra. It is not how much money you make during a bull market, but how much money you keep once the tide turns.

Bonds have never been more expensive. The cost of money never cheaper. Not for four millennia. Everyone had to pay higher interest rates. Babylonians. Egyptians. Athenians. Romans. Byzantines. Everyone paid higher rates during long deflationary periods. Think 19th Century. When money was backed by gold.

Are bonds in a bubble? Economics professors might say no. Capital is no longer scarce. Traditional premium for owning “risk-less” bonds is evaporated. Rejoice at the euthanasia of the rentier.

Common sense says otherwise. Something like $17 trillion in government guaranteed bonds are assured to lose money, if held to maturity. Investment grade corporate bonds provide nominal income. Will lose money in real terms. Junk bonds yield less than many blue-chip stocks. Will get crushed in the next downturn.

Everything is compared to what is on offer in the bond market. Interest rates determine what people pay for real estate and businesses. Works like a lever. Rates fall, everything is worth more. Rates rise, everything is worth less.

Fed says rates will be low for a long time. Too much debt. There is no other option. Wall Street assumes rates will be zero forever. Too much debt. Rising interest rates is too painful to contemplate.

Big faith in Central Banks. They walk on water. They have all the power. Masters of debasement. Servants of markets. Call it a maestro bubble. Everyone is following the yellow brick road. Wizards of Finance becoming the Wizards of Oz is too painful to contemplate. No one is ready.

Take a reality check. Repeat the mantra. It is not how much money you make during a bull market, but how much money you keep once the tide turns.

Live outside the bubble.

There is no income in fixed income. Ditch longer-term bonds. Stay within 5 years. Not a random number. Ditch junk bonds. Credit standards are beyond lax. Ditch bond funds.

Stay clear of digital currencies. Traditional stores-of-value, like gold, are better. Unlevered precious metals royalty trusts are best. They produce income.

Understand real estate’s true problem. Not COVID-19. Not Amazon AMZN +0.5%. Not eCommerce. It is the Capital Cycle. It will take years to absorb inventory.

Live outside the bubble.

Avoid compelling stories. Pay attention to cash yields. Adopt a curator’s mindset. Pick and choose securities that can prosper outside the bubble. Be idiosyncratic. Do not be a mindless price-taker!

Everyone is focused on how the world will change in the next decade. Very sexy. Very bubbly. Bezos says this is stupid. Focus instead on what will remain the same.

Outside the bubble, the playing field is surprisingly large. Quality companies on offer at reasonable prices. Companies that will be around. Priced to deliver adequate returns. Growing dividends of 3 – 4%. Probable earnings growth of 3 – 7%. No sexy narratives. No bubble required for a happy ending.

Non-stretch predictions for 2030. America and China will be adversaries. Humans will eat food. Get sick. Consume financial services. Keep a clean body. Use energy. Invest in these areas.

Defense stocks are exempt from the business cycle. They are reasonably valued in real terms. Dirt cheap in relative terms. Less than 15X earnings. Growing dividends. Own Lockheed Martin LMT -0.4%. Own General Dynamics GD +0.8%. Own Huntington Ingalls HII +3.3%. China is not our bosom buddy. Never will be.

Shares in venerable consumer brands are outside the bubble. Big powerful companies. Can weather harsh storms. Coca-Cola. Kellogg K +0.7%. Kimberly-Clark KMB 0.0%. PepsiCo. If interest rates remain low, their well-covered dividends are too juicy to ignore. If interest rates rise, they will fall less.

Keep high cash reserves. Current risks in the system are ungaugeable. Be patient. The bubble will end. Some day.

The author owns shares in Coca-Cola, General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls, Kimberly Clark, Lockheed Martin, and PepsiCo Marty Leclerc manages the Barrack Yard Global Core Portfolio. Identifying businesses of lasting value that will benefit from major long-term trends, but that are resilient enough to navigate an uncertain future, is my goal.I choose companies from the world’s stock markets; attempting to mitigate risk by relying on a robust investment process, by focusing on valuations, and by anchoring decision-making in “predictive factors.” I am a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia and an Investment Advisory Representative of Barrack Yard Advisors llc., a Registered Investment Advisor in Washington, DC.

Get Your Business Funded in 2021: A Look at Super Angels

This is a Guest blog post frim Ines LeBow, a CONNECTpreneur strategic partner and Coach. She has prepped dozens of successful presenting companies who have successfully raised capital.

The year (2020) that will be forever defined as the year of the Covid pandemic brought about significant upheaval and change in many areas of private and professional life across the globe. It also sparked tremendous shifts in the start-up investment world. One class of investors emerging is what we call “Super Angels”.

What Are Super Angels?

Super Angels in the business investment world are best described as a hybrid between traditional angel investors and venture capitalists. They tend to invest early in the seed round of funding at startups at levels that are above what gets raised in the friends-and-family round but less than a typical venture round of funding. However, when it comes to how they raise funds, they approach the process much like a typical VC would.

Super Angels are not just serial start-up investors; they invest in businesses as their full-time gig and tend to have a large and growing portfolio in which they take an active interest. They don’t tend to be interested in long-term investments or board roles, thus they like to look for business investments in which the principals are experienced entrepreneurs.

Why Should I Consider Super Angels?

As a result of financial, economic, and market trends, institutional venture capital activity is still on the rebound. Some rode the wave of growth and allowed for a bloated infrastructure and high fees that are now preventing them from being nimble in the market. Others have their portfolio tied up in businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic, and they’re not yet willing to exit those investments.

These changes with traditional VCs open up opportunities with angel investors and super angels, especially as the investment model is changing to one of funding more startups but with less cash invested in each business. One added advantage of this investment approach is that super angels have a broad reach to the kind of talent, investment contacts, and potential M&A opportunities that can go beyond the access a traditional investor can provide.

How to Get Super Angels to Invest

Many of the top super angels don’t just take an appointment from anyone off the street. They require a referral from someone they trust, so cultivating a good network in the start-up world is going to be important. But don’t give up hope if you aren’t well networked. This isn’t just about who you know, although it helps. These are smart, experienced investors looking for good people and great ideas behind which to put their money. If you employ a sound strategy and disciplined approach, you can be successful in getting funded by a super angel. Here are a few articles you can review to ensure you’re prepared to engage with a super angel investor:

If you are an entrepreneur looking for funding, are interested in presenting at CONNECTpreneur.org, or would like to learn more about how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You can find me on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or my ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Do you Want to Sell Your Business for Maximum Value?

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This is a Guest blog post from Guillermo Birmingham, CPA, Partner at B2B CFO.

Want to Sell Your Business? Begin with the End in Mind!

At a Glance:
◆ 73 million Baby Boomers will retire in the next several years. 1
◆ Baby Boomers own more than 4 million privately-held businesses.
◆ They employ between 60-70% of all U.S. employees.
◆ 49% of surveyed business owners lack knowledge of the market value of
their business.

Selling a business for top dollar is a dream for many business owners. Building and growing a business takes tremendous sacrifice so that one day the Owner can enjoy the fruit of their labor and live a life of comfort and prosperity.

Have you put much thought into what your business would look like the day you retire? Thinking of selling your company someday? Do you plan to leave your legacy to a family member? It all starts with a well-planned and executed exit strategy.

Your objective when selling is to get maximum value. This requires time, preparation
and a team of professionals. If selling your business is on the horizon, B2B CFO® suggests
you begin with the end in mind and follow these key steps:


Define goals and prepare your exit strategy

When considering the sale of a businessa business owner has a wide variety of transaction options to sell the business. (e.g,.
ESOPs, Financial Buyer, Strategic Buyer, or Family Member). A formal business exit
plan puts the goals, priorities and strategies in place and in writing, for a successful
transition. Without a clearly defined and communicated plan, business owners are
leaving their personal and financial future to chance. A strategized exit plan can help
you to maximize the value you get and successfully market your business to potential
buyers or investors.

Time the sale of your business

The value of your business is correlated to the market within which it operates – therefore, you should look to sell when market conditions are healthy. Selling in a down-turned economy is not always advisable. If you anticipate growth in the future, wait until the economy rebounds. Also, consider if you are emotionally prepared to sell. Do you arrive at work each day excited to tackle new challenges, or are you feeling irritable and burned out by the business?


Create maximum value pre-sale

The number one reason deals get delayed or don’t happen is due to declining financial performance. The value of your business before and during the transition process is key to obtaining the profit you desire. It could take 12-24 months of preparation before putting your business on the market. To help improve the value of your business consider strategies to build a diverse customer base create recurring revenue streams, ensure consistent and healthy cash flow, demonstrate scalability and show a strong competitive advantage. Analyze your processes and look for ways to increase operational efficiency , reduce expenses and control inventory without affecting your operations. The goal is to ensure your business is attractive to a large pool of potential buyers.


Determine what your business is worth

To find the value of your business, subtract liabilities from the assets. A business is generally worth a multiple of its profit. However, don’t just base your assessment of the business’s value on number crunching. Consider the value of your business based on its geographical location, customer-base and your industry . Business valuation requires a solid grasp of both how value has been created prior to the valuation date, and how it will continue in the future. An expert in business valuations will help you gauge an accurate assessment. Prepare your financials: If you’re considering selling your business, it’s important to remember that prospective buyers are looking for clear facts and financial records on your business to prove whether it is a profitable investment for them. Some records to be sure to have on hand include: two years of profit and loss statements, current balance sheet, cash flow statement, business tax returns, copy of the current lease, insurance policies, and employee agreements to name a few.

Compile due diligence information

When potential buyers evaluate a company , they expect the records and facts to be properly organized and documented. The location of due diligence documents is commonly known as the data room. There are many aspects of selling a business to consider such as, legal, accounting, financial, operations, human resources and much more. Providing business information in a logical, organized format for all buyers not only helps build trust during the sale process but can reduce the time it takes a potential buyer to complete their due diligence analysis. Ensure you have all the critical documents and records needed in a framework that is easy to understand and reference for buyers.

Assemble a qualified “team”

Don’t go it alone. If you’ve determined that your business is ready for sale, save yourself time, money, and frustration by building a trusted team of advisors. These experts can help you strategize, overcome the challenges ahead, and secure the highest possible value—so you can focus on running your business in the interim. Research their qualifications, track record and experience. In order to get the highest value for your business and to negotiate the selling process effectively and efficiently, it is imperative that you enlist qualified professionals that you can trust with confidential information. Experts that can help during the transition include an accountant, CFO, tax expert; lawyer; business broker; business appraiser/valuation expert; and banker or other financier, if third party funding is needed.

Guillermo can be reached at gbirmingham@b2bcfo.com. B2B CFO® provides Management Advisory Services to owners of privately held companies. We focus on increasing cash and company value. Our services include improvements in finance, accounting and operations, company growth, as well as helping owners to transfer or sell their companies. Our professionals work directly with business owners, on-site. Each of our 200+ professionals is an equity owner and brings 25 plus years of senior-level experience. With a nationwide presence, B2B CFO® is the largest company of its kind in the United States. Founded in 1987 and headquartered in Mesa, Arizona, B2B CFO® has ranked in the Inc. 5000 and was recognized in 2018 as one of Forbes Magazine’s “Small Giants.” For more information please visit www.B2BCFO.com.